Concerns are raised about needing to know more than the students, or having to have all the solutions.
Many feel they need to design complete lessons with all the activities and projects mapped out, or a deep connection with the curriculum and justifications as to its necessity.
The benefit of STEM is the versatility to which it can provide depth and breadth in simple, even loosely designed lessons.
When the right stimulus is provided, and the right opportunities created, there is a greater level of autonomy for students to direct the next phases, becoming more informed and willing to teach you!
From there, all that is necessary is a note on the basic ideas so next time, if a student is stuck, a little direction and they can be off into something wonderful.
Though, again, there is a struggle with getting started. The following are 5 ways you can get started with STEM, with examples linked to Key Learning Areas.
1. Measurement is easy and fun with some simple and pretty cheap technological tools.
Arduino is a fantastic technology that is easy to learn and brings together science, coding and math.
You don’t need to purchase an entire class set - remember with every project or activity not every student is going to want to do the same thing!
Get one or two Arduino Mini boards, a couple of temperature sensors and moisture sensors. Stage 4 students learn to grow seedlings in science, so its a great opportunity to extend the experience!
For those who are interested, let them program the Arduino so it records temperature and moisture in the planters.
There are an infinite number of resources on how to use these two simple sensors with Arduino - you can be up and running in no time!
Enable others to use this data to graph and plot information so they can track the growth of the plants, and some students might want to take photos of each phase, aligning it with the data and graphs to document growth.
It can be a diverse and exciting time for all, with varied activities and significant learning outcomes!
2. Mathematics is the cornerstone of STEM. A recent lecture by Kathryn Holmes at Western Sydney University highlighted the importance of teaching mathematics, particularly for girls.
Beneficially, mathematics in STEM can be about logical processing and real-world measurements of space and time.
So, make math fun with robotics! With a Sphero or Ollie robot students can create mazes with certain distances, angles and shapes to drive the robot through.
As they work through the problem, guide them to measuring how far the robot travels in a particular time and what that means for turning (how many degrees per second, etc).
This can be a powerful way to connect basic math with the real world.
3. Bridge building is fun, and with a few paddle-pop sticks and some glue, you can be up and running in no time.
The benefit of this particular problem is it can be great for all ages.
Generally, we set some boundaries such as span it must cover and whether it can have pier-style supports or not.
Students can access a great number of bridge-building apps on iPad and Android to learn the basic principles, or you could be more tangible and provide various activities for suspension, truss and other types.
It’s best if they work in teams so we are supporting the development of their soft skills (collaboration, communication, etc.).
Science contributes here with basic laws of physics, such as leverage, tension, weight and stress distribution.
Math is used for students to measure, test and determine weight of the bridge versus its capability, which we use as a determinate of ‘success’ (lower bridge weight over higher load).
Students have a great time competing and testing!
When it comes time to test them, hook a bucket under the bridge that hangs just a little above the ground.
Fill it slowly with water for an accurate measurement of load capability!
4. Curiosity Machine has some excellent projects, which are fully supported by professional educators and a broad community of users.
One project that caught my attention is brilliant for physical education.
Students create simple ‘bones’ from wooden planks to represent arms, legs or other movable joints in the body.
These should be simple and have single pivot points (thought for older groups you could use more).
Have students investigate flexion, extension and attachment of tendons.
Have them represent these with rubber bands or other materials (can they find something more suitable?).
They can learn to demonstrate the action of these joints, muscles and tendons.
To bring technology in, have students create videos that explain the movement, create a YouTube channel and share it with professionals in the field – they would be excited to share their knowledge and comment on the work for feedback!
5. Often we overlook the possibilities of bringing computers to art.
To extend this, take a look into fractals.
These are amazing, mathematically precise creations that are present in our world everywhere.
Think about ferns, or cauliflower (the green one), and snowflakes.
These are all fractals – patterns that can continue indefinitely. There are some fantastic fractal generators on the web (one that has some great detail is world.mathigon.org/fractals).
Talk students through the process of understanding the mathematics – even just repition and the basic features of fractals, then have them design one online using a generator, or if they really want to get into it, Photoshop has some amazing tools.
Fusion 360 (an Autodesk product you can get for free as an educator/student) can do them in 3D for printing, CNC machining or just viewing in virtual reality.
It isn’t hard to get practical with STEM. Sometimes, it just takes a little push in the right direction.
There are so many benefits and as we get further down the track of understanding that whilst STEM will always be a combination of those four core disciplines, it is just as much about interdisciplinary work and collaboration.
As a teacher, we don’t have to provide all the answers for students. We just need to create the problem, the context or the inspiration, and great things can happen.